Resting at the corner of Oglethorpe Avenue and Abercorn Street, Colonial Park Cemetery serves as the burial ground for some of Savannah’s most ghastly memories.
Dating back to the 1750s, the multi-acre plot of land houses between 9,000 to 12,000 people, most of whose stories have been lost to history. And what a long, complicated history that is – one that Keith Baudry, or “Mr. Bones,” spends his time illuminating.
While strolling past the historic site on his weekly commute to work, Baudry became enchanted with the lost narratives of the people buried within.
“It was always a reflective part of my morning – looking in through the wrought iron gates,” he began. “Here were all these people who, in their time, lived lives just as complex as mine – just as full of joy and sadness, love and heartbreak. They lived and died in this place, Savannah, this same city where I now live. It’s all very romantic to me, these concepts of time and memory.”
His attraction to Colonial Park would later inspire his touring company, Ole Bones Oddities and Tours.
Though his passion was already there, the concept came to him in the most unconventional way.
While donning a custom-made Halloween costume of the skeleton suit from “Spectre,” a popular James Bond film, Baudry stumbled across a woman working on a Universal Pictures film that lambasted him for wearing the getup without properly representing the character that she believed him to be – Baron Samedi, the guardian of graveyards.
“Reading about this character, he is a powerful voodoo loa – a spiritual guide to deceased souls – and is considered the lord of the dead,” Baudry explained.
“He loves coffee, loves cigars and loves rum (I was working in both a coffee and cigar shop at the time). One eye of his glasses is knocked out, representing his ability to see in two dimensions, both the physical and the spiritual.”
Upon further research, Baudry learned that the suit inspiring his Halloween costume served as a subtle reference to Live and Let Die, another Bond film in which Baron Samedi made an appearance.
“With my first child on the way, it was do or die time,” he chuckled. So he took a leap of faith, put on his skeleton suit and developed the concept of a walking tour through Colonial Park.
Integrating research from sources including Arthur Funk’s 1950s research and a 1922 book of epitaphs, Ole Bones Oddities and Tours offers a rich glimpse into the troubled history of the cemetery.
“I talk about some individuals, but for the most part, I discuss the changing landscape of this cemetery as Savannah grew to swallow and expand past it,” he explained. “I see the lengths people went through to ensure they were remembered, and how many of their efforts have utterly failed, wiped away by the hands of time.”
Many people hear of Colonial Park for its spooky folklore filled with tales of ghost sightings and restless spirits, but Baudry has little interest in narratives from beyond the grave for his tours. “The truth of this place is dark enough to raise chills and convey a valuable lesson,” he said. “We need not fear the dead when the living are so much worse.”
While escorting his patrons throughout the park, his pseudonym “Mr. Bones” serves as a constant reminder of a universality that he sees between all humans, living and dead.
“I guess somewhere in here is a creeping thought that one day I, too, will be a puzzle of dry bones wrapped in a rotted wooden box and buried beneath a crumbling stone inscribed with my barely legible name,” he commented. “It’s a constant memento mori staring me in the face. The name ‘Mr. Bones’ came by accepting that the finality of death is what makes this life so meaningful.”
Keith Baudry of Ole Bones Oddities and Tours may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tickets for next-day tours are available for purchase on Abercorn St. at Cup to Cup Café. For a far out or quickly approaching date, patrons may schedule through AirBnB Experiences. Schedule tours at least 12-24 hours in advance. For more information, visit OleBones.com.
Article written by Blake Ciccio.